30 Before 30: Drive with No Planned Destination

#3 from my 30 Before 30 list: Drive with no planned destination

The initial source of inspiration was a Nissan commercial from 2006. In this commercial (or short documentary, rather), a group of friends head out on the open road with their Nissan Pathfinder, a big barrel of red licorice, and one rule: left turns only. They wanted to find out where that would take them. Ever since I first saw that commercial six years ago, I have found it to be an interesting concept. Where would I end up? What would I discover? Who would I meet?

I was also inspired by the road trip Orlando Bloom’s character takes in the movie Elizabethtown. Thanks to a one-of-a-kind road map, he discovered that there are so many quirky, historically significant, or simply breathtaking landmarks in the United States. I hoped that driving somewhat aimlessly might allow me to stumble upon a few of them.

I began with baby steps over the years since that commercial aired. During college, I had to drive two hours on the turnpike between home and campus. Every so often, when my schedule didn’t demand arriving at a particular time, I’d think to myself, “What would happen if I got off the turnpike an exit early?” Though I may have arrived later than expected or used more gas than I would have liked, I always found my way home eventually. (This one time, however, my sense of direction failed me, and I had to admit defeat by plugging in the GPS to guide me home.)

After college graduation, I spent the next two summers working in Boston, a city incredibly conducive to walking and public transportation. My first summer there, the city was just calling me to explore, and that’s what I did with my free afternoons or days off. With my work-provided subway pass in my pocket and some comfortable shoes on my feet, I set off. I never had a particular destination in mind; I just started walking to see where I would end up. If I got too tired to walk home, my subway pass was my safety net. If I were unsure of my location, I could just look for a big “T” marking the nearest station for any number of bus or subway lines and figure it out from there. This one particular day, I plugged my route into Google Maps and realized that I had walked aimlessly for six miles, discovering historical landmarks and the campus of MIT along the way.

This past Saturday (May 26, 2012), I packed up my car for a brief “no-destination road trip.” Though I don’t think I will ever be able to recreate this road trip with complete accuracy, I attempted to trace my route on Google maps. Here’s what I think my route looked like:

I started at the DMV, where I planned to renew my license before beginning the trip. Along with a few other people there, I discovered that the DMV was closed from Saturday through Tuesday for the Memorial Day holiday. I began my road trip a little earlier than anticipated, leaving the DMV at 9 AM. As I drove through Carlisle, I quickly realized that driving aimlessly is not as conducive to spontaneity as one might assume. By the time something caught my eye, it was too late to slow down for the turn or too inconvenient to head back. For example, I missed every entrance to Carlisle’s Thornwald Park. Instead I decided to follow signs to the Carlisle Fairgrounds. (I missed that turn, too.)

I continued driving and found myself heading up a mountain in Perry County. Again, I spotted signs for places that could have been interesting, but I kept missing the opportunity to stop. I saw signs for a local creamery, several yard sales, and antique cars. I passed by a road sign for a community center and then drove past a Little League game by Lupfer’s Grove & Campground. Shortly past the baseball field, I saw another sign for the community center and hung a quick left onto Pisgah State Road. The community center was a small building and pavilion, and I ended up driving right by it. On the same road, I saw a sign for a small alpaca farm, but I wasn’t able to stop.

from the pitcher’s mound -Valley Road Park

I continued onto Valley Road. I was finally able to stop and get out of the car at the Valley Road Park in Carroll Township, PA. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, because the long path from the road to the “parking lot” was just gravel. Only the first 10 feet off the main road was paved. There was an abandoned excavator bucket on one side and a telephone pole lying on the ground on the other. I was also surprised to find the baseball field empty for such a sunny Saturday. I wandered around to take photos of the grassy area (where I found what might be the remnants of some kids’ bottle bomb) and the baseball field. I’m still perplexed by this location, and so far, Google searches have not revealed much about “Valley Road Park.”

After the park, I continued east on Valley Road and turned onto Richwine Road after spotting a sign for a Christmas tree farm. Again, I wasn’t able to stop, but the farm was basically acres of evergreens planted on a hill. There will be an excellent selection come Christmastime. I think it was along this road that I saw a buzzard eating a squirrel in the middle of the road. As my car approached, the buzzard hopped over to the shoulder in front of someone’s house. Richwine looped back to the road I had been driving on, which caught me by surprise. I didn’t think I had driven in a circle (though now I realize, looking at the map, I had driven in an big “S”-shaped path). I kicked myself for not stopping at the creamery or this abandoned-looking building, places I told myself the first time around I wanted to visit should I end up back there.

After making a big loop toward the North and getting detoured for a Memorial Day parade, I ended up at my second stop, Cove Barn Antiques in Duncannon. Apparently this place is open regularly on Sundays and on other days by chance. I caught them on a good day. Basically this place is a three-story barn filled from wall to wall with stuff. Taxidermy animals, comic books, VHS tapes, appliances… I think most people there were antique collectors rather than people like me who were looking for kitschy things to post on Instagram. I will say this: their definition of “antique” is very broad. Atari: vintage, yes; antique, no.

Definitely give the cream of potato soup a try.

After the antiques shop was lunch at the Marysville All American Diner. I asked my server, Pam, if she had any recommendations. “What’s your favorite thing on the menu?” I asked. She said that everything was good, and since the menu was so large, it would be hard to choose. She pointed out the items on their “senior menu.” She informed me, “It’s not just for seniors. It’s also for people who don’t need a lot of food, like little girls like us.” I took a couple minutes to look over the menu and decided upon chicken cordon bleu from the “senior” menu. It came with a cup of soup (cream of potato) and one side (macaroni salad). It was all very delicious, and the service was excellent. Even though the meal was from their selection of “lighter fare,” I ended up taking half of my meal home, and I am looking forward to finishing it up today.

Pride of the Susquehanna Riverboat at City Island

Though I was driving somewhat aimlessly, I ended up in familiar territory not too far from home – Front Street in Wormleysburg. I decided to turn onto the Market Street Bridge and walk around City Island to take some pictures. I have rarely been to City Island during the day, so I would be able to get some different images. I stopped by the Pride of the Susquehanna riverboat, the “beach,” and the bath house before walking the perimeter of the island around Metro Bank Park, home to the Harrisburg Senators baseball team. I walked across the Walnut Street Bridge to the Arts Fest in Harrisburg.

After City Island, I stopped by Negley Park in Lemoyne to get another view of the river and maybe visit the playground there. I didn’t stay for too long, because the sky was beginning to look a little stormy, and I didn’t want to look too creepy hanging around the playground while a bunch of little kids played. On my way out of the park, I spotted a huge groundhog that was running next to my car. He was camera shy, though, because he would run away when I stopped to take his picture. From there, I drove the five miles back to home.

I think I would like to try this again, though I would do it a little differently. I would probably rent a car, which I can do officially after my 25th birthday this coming Saturday. I would make a weekend or a week out of it, traveling further than 60 miles to discover more of this country. I would bring someone with me to keep an eye out for interesting locations and help me decide when to turn. I would stop more and spend more time talking to the people I come across. I intended to make a video out of this trip, but I didn’t end up doing that. If I do this again, I would definitely be more intentional about taking video along the way. I was able to take plenty of photos, though!

Click any image to enlarge.
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Boston Impressions, so far

I’ve been in Boston for 3 weeks now (halfway through the summer) and really haven’t had much time to blog. It feels like I haven’t had much time to write lately, whether in Pennsylvania or in Boston, but compared to last year, free time seems to be lacking. Maybe it’s the scorching heat that keeps me indoors? For whatever reason, I’ve been exploring less, reading less, reflecting less.

Last year, I would go outside, maybe read by the river for a while, and then walk with no set destination. I would eventually make it back to the dorm about 3 miles later. I have yet to do that this summer. I am slowly making my way through C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. Last year I finished 3 or 4 books and short stories. I have 3 other books on my dorm room shelf that might return to Pennsylvania unopened. I also brought my journal along with me and threw a blank journal into my luggage just in case. I haven’t written in either one yet. At the end of the day, I just get too tired to think about, let alone write about, my day. I don’t know if I will have the motivation to catch up on journaling until after this summer.

I haven’t hung out in the boys’ dorm nearly as much this year. By this time last year, I pretty much knew all of the boys’ full names and probably life stories. Right now, I’m doing dinner check-ins for the 14 to 17 year olds, and I’m still asking for their names (granted, there are twice as many boys this year as last year). The boys’ dorm is no longer next door to the girls’ dorm, so it is more difficult to stop by for a few minutes just to hang out. Also, the TV room is on the opposite side of the building from the office. Last year it was all in the same room, and the boys would watch movies or play games while we sat at the computer. We got to participate in some interesting, sometimes profound, conversations and discussions. This year, however, I have gone deeper than surface level with only a select few.

The staff feels different this year, too. Not better, not worse – just different. We are still too overqualified for the work that we do. We still have an eclectic mix of personalities, backgrounds, and interests. And we still have some internal issues. Communication seems to be a little more difficult this year. “Dropping the ball” is a phrase that has been used on more than one occasion this summer. However, there have been changes in procedure around here. We are all getting used to new systems and new methods of communication. Until we all have an understanding of how everything works, things are bound to fall through the cracks.

In spite of professional difficulties, friendships have formed easily among the staff. As a new staff person last year I perceived somewhat of a clique among the returners. This year, it seems like the line is pretty blurred between new staff and returners, even without intentionally seeking out friendships with the new people. The new people I have met this summer are pretty great, though. More than last year, I have found people with similar morals and interests, people who will join me for church services on Sunday, and people who don’t mind staying in while others go to the bar. I didn’t think I would find these kinds of people on staff this year, so I was originally hesitant to return to Boston. Who knew that a significant portion of staff would be just the kind of person I was hoping to find? I’ve enjoyed spending time with some of the women on staff, talking about worship through dance, desires for our faith, and how wonderful God truly is.

The children are interesting. They are more social with each other and more friendly with me than I had expected. All the girls on my floor are 16 or 17, a bit older than last year. Going into this summer, my expectations for socialization were set pretty low, so it wasn’t too difficult to exceed them. We have reached a point, though, where they are tired of hearing me talk at floor meetings, and I am tired of trying to talk over them. It’s moments like the floor meetings when I am glad I did not become a teacher. I would have gotten too frustrated with classroom management and attempting to assert myself.

They are teaching me about the parent I would like to become, should I have children in the future. I’d like to think I won’t become a helicopter parent and that my children will be perfectly fine speaking for themselves. I don’t want to hover over them every moment of their lives and do everything for them until they are completely incapable of independence. I want to raise my children to say please and thank you, to treat other people with respect, and not to take anything for granted. While there are standout “good kids” with positive attitudes and impeccable manners, those who complain are more outspoken. They don’t understand why they can’t get whatever they want, why they can’t expect people to clean up after them wherever they go, why they should call people by their names instead of by their home country, or why “I’m paying for this” is not always a valid argument. Some of the children have a strong sense of entitlement, expecting the world to bend over backwards for their pleasure. Sometimes it is difficult to determine if this is just typical teenage egocentrism and selfishness, but after hearing parents voice their opinions just as strongly, it is evident that the family shares a limited world view occupied by misperceived privilege. They may be used to buying their way to satisfaction and living lives without consequences. They lack the ability to see the broader picture and the perspective to understand that while they want more than what is given, they ought to be thankful for what they have.

Thoughts from the Sky

As we left Baltimore, the ground was covered with snow as far as the eye could see. The further we ascended into the sky, the snow seamlessly transitioned into clouds until the white was no longer below us but around us. During the flight, I began reading “Simple Spirituality: Learning to See God in a Broken World” by Christopher L. Heuertz. His first chapter commented on his thoughts of true humility, and as I looked out on the vastness of white outside my window, I couldn’t help but feel humbled.

Looking down at the ground on the flight to Dallas reminded me of Brent Good’s work. I wonder if he found his inspiration traveling between PA and Dallas during his grad school years.

A change of perspective can be everything. Flying above the storm clouds reveals only blue sky and sunshine, while standing below gives you only darkness and rain.

Clouds make me want to jump into a swimming pool full of cotton balls.

Return to Suburbia

At several points during the summer, I contemplated the idea of living in Boston year-round. “I probably could, but I think I would miss driving too much,” was usually my response. I like the experience of being on the road, especially with a good soundtrack to keep me company, or good company to entertain me with conversation. After watching Elizabethtown, I’ve wanted to take a solo road trip around the country to visit a combination of significant and obscure landmarks. Driving is even one of my favorite activities on facebook.

Now that I have returned to the suburbs after a month in Boston, I’m not so sure I would miss driving as much as I thought. I spent the last six weeks relying on my own two feet and MBTA, with only one round-trip drive in a car during the entire time in Boston. I liked having unlimited rides on my T pass, giving me the freedom to hop onto a subway car and ride to the studio or the harbor or the beach. To my surprise, I really enjoyed walking too. Sometimes I walked with purpose, with the grocery store or a restaurant as my destination. I think more often than that, I walked rather aimlessly, choosing a direction and going, hoping I wouldn’t get caught in the rain or become too tired for the return home. It was on these walks that I stumbled upon Chinatown, a festival for AccessSportAmerica, the Cheers bar, and a graffiti-covered railway bridge over the Charles River. I’m not usually one for exercise, but I enjoyed the time outdoors over the time spent idling inside. I don’t really have the opportunity to explore or walk around aimlessly in the suburbs, though one would think it should be safer. Rather, pedestrians are limited to the shoulders of bustling roadways to get them from residential developments to shopping centers. The other day, I drove from my house to Chick-Fil-A across the street, a distance I would have walked without question in Boston. It’s probably as far from my house as the Kenmore Square T stop is from our dorm. It seemed senseless to me, and with that I began to think I could do without driving and live in a city long-term, provided there is a good public transit system there. So at this point, I am allowing myself to look at jobs in Philadelphia, Boston, Washington DC, and Chicago (I couldn’t afford to live in NYC…) and using an exercise ball I bought after driving to the store.